To see democracy in action at the U.S. Capitol, visitors will soon pass through screening gates and iron fences on the grounds, pass through more metal detectors, and constantly be watched by police in order to catch a glimpse through bomb-proof glass of congressmen seated behind bomb-resistant desks.

That's all part of an $18.7 million security program the House sergeant-at-arms is seeking to better protect Congressmen.While he cites frightful statistics about why that is needed, it raises questions about who is really the most free the public and Congress essentially caged in the Capitol, or the criminals forcing such measures.

Sergeant-at-Arms Jack Russ recently reported to Congress that 1,162 weapons were seized from visitors last year, up from the 470 similar weapons seized in 1986.

They included an Uzi machine gun, a pistol disguised as a beeper, and soda bottles containing explosives. Most weapons taken were from people who apparently had no criminal intent, but were unfamiliar with Capitol weapons rules. Still, 63 people were prosecuted up from 50 the previous year.

Security at the Capitol began tightening up this decade after threats from terrorists and an explosion that destroyed a bathroom there.

People without proper credentials or escorts find it virtually impossible to walk from one end of the Capitol to the other without being stopped and questioned by guards.

Because of the large number of weapons confiscated, no doubt exists that tight security is needed to protect Congress and its visitors. But it also serves as a visual reminder that an undeclared war with terrorists really exists. It's sad that Congress seems to be a prisoner-of-war under protective custody.

Those who bring weapons into the Capitol should be prosecuted quickly and punished severely. It could help to make the Capitol the home of the truly free.